What’s worse than an unfunded mandate? An unfunded mandate worsening existing problems.
Illinois, like the rest of the nation, faces high healthcare costs and a nursing shortage. But check out the Safe Patient Limits Act (House Bill 2604 and Senate Bill 1908) now moving through the Illinois General Assembly. It’s thoroughly discussed in a Belleville News-Democrat article from last week.
It would force hospitals to hire more nurses by setting minimum nurse/patient ratios. The Illinois Health and Hospital Association says the legislation would require about 20,000 more nurses in the state at a cost of nearly $2 billion, according to the article. That cost would surely show up in higher insurance premiums.
No, say supporters, hospitals don’t know what’s in their own interests. “Safe patient limits have no negative impact on the financial performance of hospitals,” their study says, and they might even be made more profitable. In fact, hiring more nurses will make nurse retention easier and produce a range of other benefits not just for patients but for hospitals.
Whose study says so? That would be our usual friends, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. They’ll produce a study to support pretty much anything organized labor wants, and it wants this bill. Their last study told us not to talk about pensions as a “crisis” and not to worry about their unfunded liabilities. The new one doesn’t mention that Massachusetts voters, fearing higher costs, rejected a similar law by 70% to 30% in November. It barely won a majority vote even from nurses. Only California has a similar law to what’s proposed for Illinois.
I don’t know how to make healthcare more affordable or how to fix the nursing shortage, but an unfunded government mandate to force more hiring doesn’t pass the smell test for me.